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What Was Shakespeare Really Like?

Stanley Wells Stephen Fry



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Cambridge University Press
14 September 2023
Sir Stanley Wells is one of the world's greatest authorities on William Shakespeare. Here he brings a lifetime of learning and reflection to bear on some of the most tantalising questions about the poet and dramatist that there are. How did he think, feel, and work? What were his relationships like? What did he believe about death? What made him laugh? This freshly thought and immensely engaging study wrestles with fundamental debates concerning Shakespeare's personality and life. The mysteries of how Shakespeare lived, whom and how he loved, how he worked, how he produced some of the greatest and most abidingly popular works in the history of world literature and drama, have fascinated readers for centuries. This concise, crystalline book conjures illuminating insights to reveal Shakespeare as he was. Wells brings the writer and dramatist alive, in all his fascinating humanity, for readers of today.

Foreword by:  
Imprint:   Cambridge University Press
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 205mm,  Width: 136mm,  Spine: 13mm
Weight:   310g
ISBN:   9781009340373
ISBN 10:   1009340379
Pages:   130
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active
Foreword Stephen Fry; 1. What Manner of Man Was He?; 2. How Did Shakespeare Write a Play?; 3. What Do the Sonnets Tell Us about Their Author?; 4. What Made Shakespeare Laugh?; Epilogue: Eight Decades with Shakespeare.

Professor Sir Stanley Wells, CBE, FRSL, is Honorary President at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. His many successful books include Shakespeare: For All Time (2002), Looking for Sex in Shakespeare (2004), Shakespeare & Co. (2006), Shakespeare, Sex, and Love (2010) and Great Shakespeare Actors (2015). He is co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Stage (with Sarah Stanton, Cambridge University Press, 2002), The New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare (with Margreta de Grazia, Cambridge University Press, 2010), The Shakespeare Circle: An Alternative Biography (with Paul Edmondson, Cambridge University Press, 2015) and All the Sonnets of Shakespeare (also with Paul Edmondson, Cambridge University Press, 2020). He is also the General Editor of the Oxford and Penguin editions of Shakespeare.

Reviews for What Was Shakespeare Really Like?

'It is, I think, incontestable to claim that no single person in history has done more for the study and appreciation of Shakespeare than Stanley Wells. This book asks four beguilingly simple questions which result in deeply fascinating and exciting journeys into Shakespeare's mind and practice. As you read, you are very likely to exclaim, as I did, 'Why the hell didn't my English teacher talk like this? Actors, directors, producers, lecturers, teachers, students, and all who want to know and understand more will hug this book to them.' Stephen Fry 'If this book wasn't short I wouldn't trust it. There is very little to go on in trying to find Shakespeare the man, and Stanley Wells doesn't pad anything out with wishful speculation. Having studied his works for longer than any man alive he is almost uniquely placed to do this detective work. In his tenth decade Wells has lost none of his curiosity or his eagerness to share his intimate knowledge.' Harriet Walter 'Stanley Wells illuminates and entertains – brilliant!' Kenneth Branagh 'A truly excellent book – I enjoyed every page. I am sure it will be read with appreciation by all who care for Shakespeare, or are curious about the inner turmoil of his life.' Claire Tomalin 'This illuminating compilation … helps separate the man from the myth.' Publishers Weekly 'Wells is our pre-eminent Shakespearean, and here he reflects magisterially on the topic that has absorbed his life for seven decades … [His] book offers a readable, pacy and personal introduction to Shakespeare's works, and to Wells's own important role, part-Prospero, part-Puck, in their popularisation. And if you're still wondering: what Shakespeare was really like remains, happily, a mystery.' The Telegraph 'Wells roots his picture of the playwright and poet in evidence and logic, and he's too erudite to be anything but modest in his conjectures - which is much the appeal of this book.' Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater 'Stanley Wells, the nonagenarian dean of Shakespeare scholars, condenses decades of living with Shakespeare into What Was Shakespeare Really Like? … Commonsensical, easy-going, Mr. Wells wants to encounter Shakespeare as a personality.' The Wall Street Journal 'Just as any production of a Shakespeare play reveals as much about its interpreters as its playwright, so Wells paints a portrait of himself alongside his subject. That the reader will still likely be glad of it is testament to the author's unwavering enthusiasm and insight.' Rory Kinnear, The Guardian '…secret, passionate urgings and scoldings were the seeds of [Shakespeare's] creativity. Professor Wells deserves a round of applause for bringing them into the light.' John Walsh, The Mail on Sunday

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